With last year's No. 4 Che Allan and No. 5 Tyler Gunter bowing out in Rounds One and Two of the Ron Jon Vans Pro Junior Men's event, a new batch of surfers had their opportunity to make a big breakthrough. None moreso than event winner Ryland Rubens -- earning his first-ever Pro Junior win and a jump from last year's No. 11 finish to now sitting at No. 1.
After 2016 yielded no more than a Semifinal result for the Sand Diego-native, Rubens now sits at the No. 1 spot to start of the season. It's still a long season ahead for the Pro Juniors, but a win in the five-event schedule provides a huge kickstart to a Top 4 spot at season's end toward the coveted World Junior Championships.
Rubens spent some time in Australia to get an early start, along with some of his fellow North American competitors, and it seems to have paid dividends.
This year's Ron Jon Vans Pro also introduced us to the new threat of Floridian Tommy Coleman. The 14-year-old, Vero Beach, Florida surfer claimed some serious scalps on his way to the Men's Qualifying Series (QS) 1,000 Semifinals -- including Noah Schweizer and nearly eventual winner Evan Geiselman. Coleman also made a charge in the Pro Junior that earned him a Finals appearance and a major bleep on our radar.
While Coleman has been around the surfing scene for some time now, this was his first big push toward a keeper result on the QS and Pro Junior Tour. As a young up-and-comer, Coleman doesn't quite plan to chase either tour just yet, but does has ambitions to begin his competitive drive this year.
Luke Gordon joins Rubens on the opposite side of the age spectrum and enters his last year as a Pro Junior before the age limit cutoff. The South Carolina-native only made it as far as a xx result in his junior career (has made a Final before, but failed to capitalize on the opportunity). But, this year Gordon means business and has put his name in the hat for wanting a chance at the World Junior Championships.
Gordon's last-ditch efforts of a 5.40 on his last wave earned him a spot into the Final over Barbadian talent Zander Venezia and now kicks off the 2017 season with 560 points.
John Mel earned his second consecutive Final at the Ron Jon Vans Pro and showed he's still a threat entering his last year as a Junior. Though he couldn't take advantage of last year's 560 points and build upon them to earn three more keeper results for a Top 4 spot, Mel's 7.07 in the dying minutes of his Semifinal proved he's prepared for all scenarios.
The Final provided little opportunity for surfers after Ruben's explosive start and left the other three competitors groveling in tough conditions, something that doesn't play into the near 6'0 tall junior's favor. However, should the waves turn on at any event, Mel is a certified threat and he showed that even with the smaller conditions on hand this last week.
But, last year's standouts Allan and Gunter will have a chance to spoil these surfer's party June 6 - 11 at the Los Cabos Open of Surf in Baja Sur California, Mexico.